School board ponders reasonable bathroom and locker room privacy

“My goal is that there is sufficient privacy for everyone who uses a locker room regardless of their gender identity”

By Kendra Walker

During the October 16 Gunnison Watershed School District board meeting, board member Dave Taylor requested a discussion of the need for a board policy regarding gender segregated facilities. He advocated for the board to develop a policy that articulates what reasonable accommodations the school district will make for privacy in facilities where undressing occurs, such as restrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms.

“By Colorado law, if we are a place of public accommodation, we have to allow the use of gender segregated facilities based on one’s gender identity or gender expression,” said Taylor. “The law is clear in stating that access to gender segregated facilities should allow use based on gender identity or gender expression.”

He continued, “The regulations start very clear but then get very fuzzy when we get down to the reasonable accommodation standards,” he said. “I believe that our school board should take a position on what is reasonable accommodation in gender segregated facilities, and I do not believe at present that our facilities reasonably accommodate all who are affected by the use of gender segregated facilities. This is particularly pertinent as we are redesigning our schools and have money or may have to allocate money to make reasonable accommodation in the use of gender segregated facilities…To be quite clear, my goal is that there is sufficient privacy for everyone who uses a locker room regardless of their gender identity.”

“I think this is something that needs to be discussed,” said board member Mandy Roberts. “I think we should be skeptical of gender-neutral facilities. I’m very concerned about the sexual assault and things going on around our country. I think this is something we need to examine and definitely ponder.”

Board member Anne Brookhart asked Taylor if he had heard specific concerns from parents or students about the topic. 

“I believe a lot of our constituency does not know what our protocol is, and since we don’t have a policy, I believe we should develop one,” answered Taylor “This could be the person who is uncomfortable being in a restroom or locker room with somebody of a biological sex that doesn’t align with their gender identity, and it also allows for privacy for anyone who wants to use a gender segregated facility. I don’t believe we have any private facilities within our locker room for somebody who wants additional privacy. That additional privacy can be helpful for adolescents who have body identification issues or are uncomfortable in sharing their private being in an open locker room facility.”

“There are people who are inquiring about this so I’m thankful Dave [Taylor] brought it up,” said Roberts. “The logistics are important, we want everybody to feel safe. I’ve done a lot of research, children don’t want to share toilets, they want privacy and when we go categorizing groups of students, that’s an open door for bullying.”

Prior to the discussion, several parents spoke during public comment expressing their concerns for how bullying is being handled in the school district. Many parents said that district administration and teachers have not properly helped their children who have been victims of bullying or properly disciplined the bullies. 

“We’ve had parents discuss bullying tonight and bullying happens in bathrooms,” said Roberts. “I think we need to tread this lightly because obviously with what’s been said tonight, we do not need any more of our children dealing with bullying.”

Superintendent Leslie Nichols said she has asked the district’s architects to put together an inventory of the existing facilities. “I can tell you that standard locker rooms exist in our high schools and middle schools, and they include an open area where kids can change and then there are bathroom stalls, which has for a long time been the option for greater privacy for any kids for whatever reason who might want a little more privacy when they’re changing,” said Nichols. 

“Having to undress in a toilet stall doesn’t seem very reasonable to me,” said Taylor. 

“I think this is a reasonable discussion to have,” said board president Tyler Martineau. “At this point I don’t think we know enough for us to commit that we have to have a policy on that.”

“If we do need reasonable accommodation, that doesn’t necessarily require a policy,” added Brookhart. “We could look into that in terms of facilities planning and provide it.”

“The important thing is not whether we have a policy or not, it’s whether we have reasonable accommodation for everyone involved,” said Taylor. 

“The first time we have someone who makes an accusation of sexual assault, we want to be sure we have our policies in place,” said Roberts. “We don’t want to be accountable for not having that.”

Martineau recommended the board direct Nichols to gather information on the topic so the board can discuss it further, hear community input and then reach a reasonable decision for moving forward. The board agreed. 

“Our current status is an important baseline of data to start with and then in thinking about reasonable accommodation I need to do more thinking and research,” said Nichols. “But in my conversations with Dave [Taylor] about this matter, we want to be sure that every student who feels a need for greater privacy where undressing occurs has an option for greater privacy. I know we have that option already because we have bathroom stalls in all of our locker rooms. The question we’re raising right now is, is that enough?”

Nichols said she will also network and research how other areas manage privacy for students in locker rooms, changing rooms and bathrooms. “I can see if we can find a norm or best practice that might already exist and see how we’re stacking up,” she concluded.

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